Case Study: Smithsonian Magazine Makes E-Mail History With Subscription Rate Increases

Challenge: Smithsonian magazine sought to increase e-mail open and conversion rates for subscription acquisition and renewal campaigns.

Solution: Build an improved Web site that took a long-term approach to audience engagement.

Subscription rates rose 11 percent.

Smithsonian magazine wanted to make history during its fall 2008 e-mail subscription marketing efforts. That spring, the Washington, D.C.-based arm of the Smithsonian Institution had deployed a subscription campaign via e-mail, using the incentive of a free screensaver, that spurred a 231-percent increase in renewals. Still, the editorial arm of the museum complex and research organization wanted to improve on those results for the long-term.

So, Smithsonian magazine asked its e-mail marketing provider, eROI of Portland, Ore., to redesign its e-mail marketing campaigns with an eye toward maintaining the institution’s brand integrity, while increasing open and conversion rates. Part of that challenge was to build demand among a varied audience, including older readers and young audiences, who may not have been so interested in history or museums.

According to the eROI case study, “Smithsonian Magazine: E-mail Design and Appealing Content Drives Results,” the answer turned out to be a blend—14-point text to accommodate the older readers, complete with a call to action tailored for many audiences. Mobile and text-only versions allowed for many avenues of viewership.

The subscription e-mail changed from a link-ridden, jumbled mass of information buckets and images to a simple, unified page. Half of the new page displayed magazine images as a unit, and the other half provided a clear call to action above six navigation buttons and one large “subscribe” button.

The e-mail led to a landing page with a similar look and feel, including the artwork and black background. There, visitors learned more—such as how a subscription would allow for museum membership privileges. (One of the benefits of institution membership, similarly, is a magazine subscription.) Smithsonian magazine also segmented its lists based on criteria such as whether the recipients were long-time subscribers or gift-givers.

The results for the magazine that uses e-mail as the main direct marketing tool because of its quick conversions—faster than direct mail and those magazine inserts, which the magazine still employs—found the redesigned e-mail yielded 11-percent higher subscription rates than its previous e-mail subscription renewal campaigns. Before the screensaver campaign jump-started the e-mail channel for Smithsonian by providing subscribers with the screensaver incentive—which also provided a branded experience for the downloader to view every day—the magazine’s previous e-mail renewal request results had been holding steady for two years.

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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  • http://Steen Steen

    wonderful increase in sales — BUT… the magazine site has no security at all — one only need to enter an email (no password; nothing) and the name and home address of the subscriber is open to the public — smithsonian has been informed and has taken no action to provide security for personal information — this increase due to ease of subscription is going to create a backlash, when people realize their names and home addresses are available to anyone who has the email — this is hardly appropriate on a site that describes itself as secure login